Dr. Ferdinand S. Leacock, a retired thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon who served as a combat field surgeon during the Vietnam War, died Oct. 5 of multiple myeloma at his Pikesville home. He was 88.
“Everybody that I know who encountered him loved him not only for the physician he was but for the person he was. He had an outstanding reputation as a surgeon and as a physician leader, and he was compassionate,” said Dr. Samuel Ross, who retired in 2020 from Bon Secours-Mercy Health System, where he worked closely with Dr. Leacock, who after he retired from practicing surgery in 2004, worked at Bon Secours Hospital as a physician-adviser.
“[Dr. Leacock] was a distinguished and stately gentleman in his approach, and was scholarly, but always with a sense of humor.”
Howard T. Jessamy, former administrator at Baltimore’s Provident Hospital, was not only a colleague but a longtime friend of 39 years.
“He was well-liked by his colleagues and patients,” Mr. Jessamy said. “He was a calm and reasonable person. He was both an efficient and effective physician.”
Ferdinand St. Obin Leacock was the son of immigrant parents. His father, Ferdinand S. Leacock Sr., was a merchant seaman who was often away from the family, and his mother, Sylvia V. Alkins Leacock, had been a certified midwife in Barbados.
Dr. Leacock was born in New York City, and when his mother wasn’t allowed to practice midwifery in Manhattan, she took a job as a seamstress in a garment factory. Seeking better child care for her son, she sent him to live with her mother in Barbados.
After graduating from Harrison College, a high school, in Christ Church, Barbados, he returned to New York City, where he entered Columbia College and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1956.
He obtained his medical degree in 1960 from Howard University Medical School and completed a general surgical residency at the old Fort Howard Veterans Hospital and residences in both thoracic and cardiovascular surgery from what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center.
During his junior year at Columbia, he met and fell in love with the former Yvonne Smith, a student at Barnard College, whom he met in a religion class. They married in 1968.
Dr. Leacock enlisted in the Army as a captain and from 1965 to 1967. He was a general surgeon at the Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, before being sent to Vietnam in 1967 as a field surgeon assigned to the 18th Surgical Hospital in Pleiku.
In 2017, Dr. Leacock received a letter from retired Army Maj. Roy Dean, whom he had treated during the war and who finally located the man who saved his life after searching military records that are held in St. Louis.
“On March 3, 1967, you were given the task of receiving me in the 18th Surgical Hospital in Pleiku. I had been hit with incoming artillery, my face, both shoulders, and chest which damaged my liver, gall bladder and several ribs,” Maj. Dean had written. “For four days every time I woke up I would see your face and watch your hands do their magic on my body to make it better… For fifty years, I have seen your face and hands, not knowing who you were.. It would be nice to talk and express my thanks to you for saving my life.”
“That letter arrived in 2017, and we called him immediately so the two of them could chat,” Mrs. Leacock said. “Vietnam was such a traumatic time, and when he came home, he just threw everything in a box.”
After being discharged in 1967, he completed his residency in thoracic surgery in 1969 at what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center and was appointed chief of surgery at the old Provident Hospital on Liberty Heights Avenue.
From 1972 to 1976, he was an assistant professor of surgery at the Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School in Los Angeles and, during that same time period, was an assistant professor of surgery at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine.
Dr. Leacock was later clinical associate professor in the department of surgery at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1981 to 1985.
After holding several surgical positions at Los Angeles County-Martin Luther King Jr. General Hospital, Dr. Leacock returned to Baltimore in 1987 when he was appointed chief of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at Bon Secours Hospital, during which time he also served as chief of thoracic surgery at what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus.
From 1990 to 1992, he was vice president of medical affairs for the old Liberty Medical Center and from 1992 to 1999 was chairman of the hospital’s department of surgery. He also maintained a private surgical practice until retiring in 2004.
“On the personal side, he gave me sound advice and guidance,” Mr. Jessamy said. “He was a mentor to me as well.”
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Dr. Leacock retired in 2015 from Bon Secours Hospital, where he had been a physician adviser since 2004.
A world traveler, some of his most meaningful journeys were to the Holy Land on pilgrimages that had been organized and guided by the Rev. Wendell H. Phillips, pastor of Heritage United Church, who baptized Dr. Leacock in the Jordan River.
“He wasn’t a member of the church, but he would accompany us to Bible studies and spiritual retreats,” his wife said.
Dr. Leacock was an active member of Sigma Pi Phi fraternity. He was also a “fierce competitor on the tennis court and at the card table, where he played bid whist,” his wife said. “He preferred tough opponents, and he loved to win.”
A memorial service will be held at 2 pm Nov. 5 at the March Life Tribute Center, 5616 Old Court Road, Randallstown.
In addition to his wife of 64 years, former executive director of Hope Support Center, Dr. Leacock is survived by three sons, Keith Leacock of Mount Vernon, Stephen Leacock of Pikesville and Kent Leacock of Oakland, California; a daughter, Adrienne Leacock of Oakland, California; and three grandchildren.